The used-car market is full of genuine bargains and for 4x4 noobs, it can be a great place to get your off-roading feet wet. Many examples of second-hand 4x4s are very reliable, and with a little elbow great you can keep them running for hundreds of thousands of miles.
Even better, you won’t worry if something breaks on your cheap 4x4, or if you get scratches in the paint or dents in the bodywork. Buying a cheap 4x4 often means you have money left over for accessories as well! Some new tires, a lift kit and a winch – these are all inexpensive options to improve your off-road experience.
The vehicles on our list have all passed rigorous testing, but where they have a weakness, we have pointed it out. These are our favorites 4x4’s for the budget-conscious off-roader.
20 Jeep Cherokee
The Jeep Cherokee gets a bad wrap which is somewhat deserved, but for a cheap 4x4, they are hard to pass up. The models with the inline 6-cylinder engine are especially reliable and for a little above scrap metal prices you can pick one up with coil springs and solid axles.
19 Isuzu Trooper
The Isuzu Trooper looks like a box with rounded edges but is comfortable, spacious, and a capable off-roader. The model of choice is the V6 –powered version as the engine is taken from Isuzu’s excellent small-truck line. The 4-cylinder gas engine is to be avoided but decent power can be extracted from the 4-cylinder diesel turbo engine if you throw enough money at it.
18 Toyota Landcruiser 60 Series
The FJ 60 really cemented Toyota’s reputation for building unbreakable vehicles. The 60s series is known for its reliability. It is one of the larger 4x4s on our list and can comfortably seat seven. The 4x4 system is near perfect but it does have one downside. Being such a large vehicle, its fuel economy is not great, but if you’re not daily driving it, that probably won’t be a concern.
17 Chevrolet K1500
The K-series used to be some of GM’s best selling vehicles. They rarely break down, even when driven hard off-road. They can be daily driven without any issues and are more comfortable than the Ford and Dodge models in the same class. The V8 model with a manual transmission is our pick.
16 Nissan Pathfinder
The Pathfinder may not be as capable of an off-road vehicle as some others on our list, but they are generally cheaper and can be driven to their limit without failing. The weak point in the Pathfinder is its automatic transmission, but these can be replaced or rebuilt easily thanks to an abundance of spare parts.
15 Toyota 4Runner
Toyota Four Runners are generally overlooked for its big brother, the Landcruiser. This has helped to keep prices low and it shares the same bulletproof qualities of other Toyota 4x4s. A decent example can be had for as little as $500, with rust being the only problem to worry about.
14 Jeep Wrangler
Jeep Wrangler’s don’t make the best daily driver, but when they are taken off-road, they are really in their element. The secret to finding a good used Wrangler is to keep looking until you come across one that has been well maintained. The aftermarket accessories available for the Wrangler is almost endless, so there are plenty of options for customization.
13 Ford F150
The F150 hasn’t been the best selling truck for no reason! Even without being lifted, the F150 has quite a tall ride height, giving excellent visibility when you’re rock crawling. Without a doubt though, the best thing about the F150 is its rock-solid engine. They are extremely durable and very reliable, and although they are highly sought after, they can still be snapped up for a bargain.
12 Mitsubishi Montero
The Montero never sold in large numbers but it should not be overlooked. They have aged better than some other brands, and second-hand models drive almost as well as when they rolled off the showroom floor. There are not many aftermarket accessories available for the Montero, but this is offset by how easy they are to work on.
11 Dodge Ram 150/1500
The second-generation Dodge Ram is an adequate all-round performer. It’s no wimp by any means, but it’s no overpowered, so it’s a good first vehicle for 4x4 noobs. It is not the most economical vehicle around, but you don’t buy these for the gas mileage. The V8 engine and manual transmission is the most common configuration available and there are plenty of parts available for the rare instance that something does break.
10 Nissan Frontier
By the time Nissan released the seventh generation of their Frontier model, they already had over 40 years of experience building pickups and 4x4s. The Frontier was developed as a no-frills 4x4. It’s spacious inside, handles off-road trails well, and perhaps the only criticism we have is the 4-cylinder motor is somewhat underpowered.
9 Chevrolet Colorado
The 2007 Chevrolet Colorado is a very respectable off-road vehicle, providing you’re not intending to use it for towing. It handles well, can be used as a daily driver, and a turbo upgrade means high horsepower figures are within reach. Being a medium-sized pickup means they are easy to maneuver and park and gas mileage is decent.
8 Nissan Xterra
Nissan’s funky looking four-wheel drive may not be to everyone's taste but it has enough elements to make it an excellent, cheap rock crawler. Handling is a strong point of the Xterra and even though it has tall ground clearance, it doesn’t feel top-heavy like some of its competitors do.
7 Ford Bronco II
When it was released, the Ford Bronco was advertised as the 4x4 for people who hate roughing it. Despite that, the Bronco is not a 4x4 that is easy to daily drive. The sloppy suspension and top-heavy qualities mean it can be a handful, but as a dedicated off-road vehicle, it is excellent.
6 Suzuki Samurai
The little Samurai is one of the lightest 4x4s on the market. Its narrow wheelbase wasn’t popular with American buyers who typically gravitated towards larger vehicles. The 1.3-liter motor can handle most challenges thrown at it, but there is no getting around that the Samurai is sparse, with no locking diff and certainly no luxuries.
5 Ford Ranger
Older model Ford Rangers can be difficult to find because their owners tend to hang onto them. These 4x4’s are indeed ‘built Ford tough’ and noted for their reliability. The only two complaints we have are that the cab feels a little cramped compared to larger trucks, and the ride is a little harsh which can be remedied with aftermarket suspension.
4 Toyota Tundra
With a bit of focused shopping, it’s possible to find a Tundra without high mileage for under $5,000. They are every bit as capable as more expensive 4x4s, thanks in part to their 5.7-liter V8 engine. Being a full-size, half-tonne truck, it can handle anything that you throw at it including towing and off-road duties.
3 Chevrolet Tahoe
The Chevrolet Tahoe comes with a huge towing ability of 8,700 thanks to its 4.8-liter V8 that puts out 290 ft-lbs of torque. Although it’s a mid-sized vehicle, cargo space is generous. The V8 is famous for its reliability and the Tahoe will regularly travel in excess of 300,000 miles without any major issues.
2 Dodge Durango
In 2001 Dodge cared about build quality and this 2001 Durango is proof of that. They are not the most economical vehicles but the powertrain is virtually maintenance-free. The ride quality is a bit rough but in-line with most 4x4’s of that era. The Durango handles wonderfully in snow and has plenty of power for going off-road.
1 Toyota Rav4
Toyota Rav4’s are among the cheapest 4x4s available but it’s worth spending a little money on the suspension and a lift kit as they have quite a low ride height from the factory. As early models are getting long in the tooth, be prepared to deal with some maintenance issues but as with most Toyota models, the Rav4 is a very reliable vehicle.
Sources: Craigslist, Complex and Gear Junkie.